Islamophobia is real and it is becoming a global issue affecting Muslims regardless of ethnicity, age, profession and social standing. In the UK, anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased fivefold after the terror attacks in Manchester and London, and in the U.S. the number of hate groups that specifically targeted Muslims rose from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.
Last year, the late Member of Parliament (MP) Jo Cox worked on a report that highlighted how Muslim women were more likely to be attacked than Muslim men. Dr. Irene Zempi of Nottingham Trent University, who has done considerable research in the area of gendered Islamophobia, corroborated the statement of Fiyaz Moghul, the founder of Tell MAMA, a project based in the UK that records and analyzes reported anti-Muslim incidents. Moghul suggests that these figures are due to Muslim women in hijab (head covering) or niqab (face veil) being more “visibly Muslim.”
As a result, I’ve noticed a shift in the attitude toward Muslim women who experience Islamophobia. There are times that women are depicted as helpless victims waiting for their proverbial knight in shining armor -who is, more often than not, a white, non-Muslim man or woman. This is not to devalue ally ship–I think there are several times where support from non-Muslims has made a significant impact, such as Tracey Tong on the New York City subway and the men who died defending a Muslim teen girl and her friend in Portland.
However, it is concerning to note how the Muslim women involved in these incidents are frequently reported as silent, passive and more worryingly, helpless. I have had my own experiences of Islamophobic abuse and there have most certainly been times where I’ve felt scared for my safety and decided not to react. But perpetuating the idea that all Muslim women are passive victims will only serve to increase the notion that visible Muslim women are easy targets and, ultimately, lead to more of these incidents.
But it really isn’t difficult to find examples of how Muslim women are combating these incidents using their own personal strengths. From Zakia Belkhiri taking fire selfies in front of a far-right protest or Saffiyah Khan‘s calmly defiant smile while squaring up to the EDL (English Defence League) leader, to MuslimGirl’s own writers compiling a Crisis Safety manual to help Muslim women feel prepared for an Islamophobic interaction.
I asked women to submit their own stories of how they have personally dealt with Islamophobic incidents:
I was coming home from uni and walking to the train station. I saw these 2 young boys and they started making fun of me saying “KABOOM” and “ALLAHU AKBAR” so I turned and gave them a look and just said ‘excuse me’ and they shut up. Later, when we were standing on the platform they were just messing around so I smiled at them to let them know Muslims can smile too.
I was sat in A&E with this guy sat opposite looking very aggressive towards me and muttering things under his breath. He was also saying he’d been there for hours, nobody cares and he’d had nothing to eat or drink.
I went to the concourse and bought him a sandwich meal deal, I walked over to him and gave him the food and drink. His whole body language totally changed and he told me his life story.
A while ago, when I was wearing a hijab, I was the only pedestrian walking along the footpath of a main road. A car full of young men drove past shouting obscenities at me. One of the passengers had half of his body hanging out of the car window shouting lewd comments mixed with anti-Muslim insults. I looked at them, smiled and said a big “Hi!” while waving as if they were my long-lost friends. The look on their faces was priceless! The guy who was hanging out the window dropped his jaw, and silently got back into his seat. A few minutes later we were at the same stop lights waiting for the lights to go green, they were right next to me, and not one peep from the four of them!
Had a phone call at work from a woman who had “questions about Muslims.” I got a chance to employ my “empathetic listening and Socratic questioning” skills and kept challenging her assumptions politely. But then she said, “You people may think this is your country too…”
Oh, no you didn’t.
My response: “Ma’am, I don’t think, I know. My dad’s family are from Ludlow and Manchester, my mum’s family are also English. I don’t think this is my country. This is my country.”
To which she spluttered, “Then why aren’t you Christian!”
I then told her that not every white Brit follows a 2000-year-old Middle-Eastern religion. Lots of us follow a 1500-year-old Middle-Eastern religion. Heck, some of us follow a 4000-year-old Middle-Eastern religion! She didn’t like that!
I chased a kid once at break time because he told me to take the towel off my head. Once I caught him I grabbed him by his chest and made him apologize and corrected his misinterpretation of the hijab. We were buddies after that!
It’s important to remember that while ally ship plays an important role in combatting Islamophobia, we need to encourage each other in the belief that we are, in fact, our own saviors.
Share your own stories of dealing with Islamophobia in the comments!